Interning at Steps to End Domestic Violence

Bessie, Development and Communications Intern, here! Today is my last day interning at Steps, and I am feeling some type of way. As I gear up for graduation, I have a lot to be thankful for, but one of the things I am most thankful for is the opportunity to work with such an empowering organization.

At the risk of sounding totally cliche: when I initially applied to intern at Steps, I felt like I was supposed to be here; it made sense to me that I should be helping those who have been made to feel small because I have been made to feel small myself -- both as a woman and as a survivor of teen domestic violence. Still, I didn’t know then what a huge impact this experience would have on me both professionally and personally.

I have learned so much about domestic violence - about the signs to look for, about its commonplace, its impact, and about the resources and support systems out there for folks who have been affected by DV. My own misconceptions have been cleared up, and I’ve learned how to talk about domestic violence--with my friends, with young people, with survivors, and with my community. I have learned so much about DV, but I’ve learned about myself, too, and I’m walking away with an overwhelming sense of gratitude toward everybody I connected with along the way.

One of my responsibilities in this role was to correspond with survivors to help them share their stories. I will admit I was nervous about reaching out to survivors; how do you ask somebody to share some of the most traumatic and heartbreaking moments of their life with you? To be vulnerable in this way is one of the most courageous acts I know, and it has been an absolute honor working with these lionhearted people.

I have been so in awe of these survivors’ resilience, openness, and determination to empower others while healing through writing. So to the survivors I connected with: I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing your experience with me and with our community. Your voice matters, and you have made a difference.

I have seen just how vital a resource Steps to End Domestic Violence is, and I am so thankful to all who have kept its doors open. I am so glad to have been a part of this organization even for such a short amount of time, and I encourage everybody to support an organization whose mission they can stand behind.

There are over 4,000 nonprofits in Vermont alone so get involved--donate a meal, volunteer to be a hotline advocate, be a mentor, go to a benefit concert. I promise it will change your life for the better and more importantly: you WILL make a difference.

I am better for this experience, and I will always be an advocate. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

The Rollercoaster

The following piece was written by a survivor to empower those affected by domestic violence. Please note potential triggers. 

So, you’re out! You’re either in a shelter, at a family or friends house, or maybe even the hospital. But, this time you know you aren’t going back. Whether it was, emotional, financial, physical abuse, or all three- you have escaped. The abuse has lasted for years, or this may be the first time- regardless you should feel so relieved, right? Don’t feel bad if you don’t, this is a perfectly normal feeling, in a long, confusing list of emotions you will experience and question as you put the pieces of your life back together.

For many, leaving is the most difficult and terrifying thing a victim will do, even more terrifying than living with an abuser. With your abuser, you often knew what to expect. You may have identified a pattern, cycle, or triggers that you knew would set off the abuse. But, now that you are out- life is far more unpredictable. While each person has different situations, some have children, pets, no money, no place to go, or family to call. Each victim will feel the same feelings and emotions, not necessarily in the same sequence, degree, or amount of time- but each victim takes a ride on the emotional roller coaster.

Some are scared, unsure where they will sleep, afraid of retaliation from the abuser, and fearful that they can’t make it on their own. You may be worried, not just about yourself and your children, but what about him? Is he in jail, is he suicidal again, is he furious at you? You may also be angry - angry at yourself for worrying about him, or for staying as long as you did. Angry at him for putting you in the position you are in, letting you down, or hurting you. You may feel sad, for so many reasons, maybe you had to leave your house and your belongings and uproot yourself and possibly your children into a shelter or an unfamiliar environment. You may be sad because your kids no longer have a two-parent home, or you miss your abuser, because not all times were bad. Ending an abusive relationship is like breaking up on steroids. Just like other relationships, you suffer the loss of love, the loss of hope you had for the future, and then you get mad at yourself for missing someone who hurt you so much.

Some days will be better than others. Some days you will want to go back, but reminding yourself that things don’t change, that you deserve better, and remembering why you left in the first place- can help you get through the day. Every day starts over, with support, self-care, surrounding yourself around others who understand what you have been through, and learning to love yourself again, the roller coaster will begin to slow down. You are not alone, shelters, hotlines, counselors, medication, groups, and a wide variety of community resources are available for the sole purpose of helping victims take back their lives.

The Dangers of Strangulation

The following piece was written by a survivor of domestic violence to educate others about the dangers of strangulation within intimate partner relationships. Please note potential triggers. 

Things got physical again, this time it was a little different, or maybe it was something that had happened before. During the struggle he grabbed your neck, it scared you- you were worried that you may die. You don’t think you passed out, and he said he only choked you a bit, there were no marks afterwards- so maybe he was right, you over-reacted? You feel like there is no reason to call the police or go to the hospital- if there are no marks then there is no injury, and no one would believe you anyways, right? Your throat is a little hoarse, but it only lasts that way for a bit. Just like previous times, he apologizes, and you believe him that it won’t happen again. Like millions of other victims who have gone through similar situations, you let it go…but what you don’t know, could very well end up killing you.

Through strangulation, a strong message can be portrayed by the abuser. Most victims fear for their lives, yet when the abuser lets go, the victim is often assured that if the abuser wanted to kill them he would have. Strangulation is one of the most dangerous forms of control in a domestic violence relationship. The abuser is able to prove to the victim that not only do they have control over their lives, but over every breath they take. They have the ability to take the victims life, and the fear and risk often creates a submissiveness in the victim that encourages the abuser to continue to use the tactic in future incidents.  

What most victims don’t know, is that when an abuser grabs their neck, puts them in a choke hold, or covers their mouth so they are unable to breath, they are being strangled, not choked. Choking happens from inside, when you choke on food or a foreign object, it blocks your passage of breathing. Once the object is out, you can breathe again, with little difficulties.  However, strangling also stops the ability for air to escape your body, but includes many more risks, ones that can occur long after the strangulation ends.

Often one of the first things victims (and abusers) do after a physical incident is check for injuries. However, only 50% of those that have been strangled show any sign of external injuries, and of those 50% that do, 15% of them can’t even be seen using a camera. Those that do show visible signs have neck bruising or “Petechiae spots” (small spots that can show on the victim’s neck, earlobes, and scalp). Often these are so light or hidden from view that they are rarely noticed. The lack of marks give both the victim and the abuser a false sense of risk and potential injury. So many people believe in the fact that if you can’t see something, then it isn’t serious.  

It is the internal impacts of strangulation that most victims, and even trained first response professionals are not aware of. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, some common symptoms of strangulation include; a sore or hoarse throat, difficulty breathing, ringing ears, dizziness, nausea, agitation, PTSD, sleep problems, and vision problems (temporary or permanent). In addition, the lack of oxygen can cause miscarriages, loss of consciousness, memory loss, incontinence (meaning that your organs have begun to fail), injuries to your larynx or arteries- which can lead to dissected arteries, blood clots, stroke, and ultimately immediate or delayed death.

Non-fatal strangulation is becoming an important topic of medical research, professional training, and legal changes. The National Domestic Violence Hotline says that 1 out of 4 women will experience domestic violence within their lifetime, out of those-  67% will experience non-fatal strangulation. Loss of consciousness and death can occur within minutes, making strangulation one of the biggest predictors of domestic violence homicide. Victims are ten times more likely to die by the hands of their abuser, once a victim is strangled, it is common for the strangulation to continue and worsen. Victims rarely seek or are able to seek medical attention after being strangled, resulting in irreversible injuries and increased fatalities. It is imperative that all victims, regardless of the lack of visible wounds find a way to seek medical attention, and explain all details and symptoms of the strangulation.



 

New Toothbrush

The following story was written by a supporter of Steps to End Domestic Violence. Please note potential triggers in this piece.

Every nine seconds a woman in the United States is assaulted or beaten. I wasn’t going to wait another nine to get out of that house. 69% of family violence against a son or daughter takes place at the victim’s home. Like the rest of the 40% of family violence victims that don’t report the incident to the police, I instead arranged to stay at my boyfriend’s parents’ house for a few days to get out of dodge.

“Try to have a level-headed conversation with your mom. Explain that your house isn't a safe place anymore and that you need to spend some time away for everyone to cool off. I’ll meet you at the end of your driveway in fifteen minutes.” My father had taken my phone, computer, and power (having pulled the breaker to my room), so we were relying on one short phone call to make it all work smoothly. Of course it didn’t.

I haphazardly packed a bag for the next few days, went downstairs at 4pm for the first time since the night before, and walked into my mother’s office. I knew it was the perfect time - a contractor was inspecting the outside of the house with my father - there couldn’t be a scene. “Mum, I’m leaving the house for a few days. It isn’t safe -” “NO!” she screamed. “You stay right there, you aren’t walking out this door.” My fight or flight instinct revved, and I was out the door before she could stand up. She clawed at my arms, leaving red welts and spilling my toothbrush onto the tiled foyer floor that I’d hit just as hard the night before. I felt ungainly, childish, as I ran to the end of the driveway and stopped, panicked, hoping that at any minute John’s black four-runner would come over the top of the hill. But with a growing sense of dread I knew he wasn’t coming. Not for another ten-odd minutes, because we had allowed for a level-headed conversation.

“Liam! Liam!” my mother screamed, and I wasn’t waiting around for him to come around the corner of the barn. I bolted down the street, no idea where I was going. There he was, right behind me, asking in a sickly sweet fatherly voice, “Where are you going hun?”. Where was I going? I started pacing at the entrance to the state forest, waiting in desperation for that car. “I’m leaving, I can’t be here, it’s not safe…” The words gushed out like a mental patient’s rant. I was crying, I was shaking, I was so confused. “Why don’t you come home?” Why the fuck do you think I’m not coming home? I was dead-armed, aching, welted, scared.

I wasn’t thinking. “Why would you run into the woods of all places?” John asked. I suppose it was because the woods have always been a safe place to me, full of friends and beauty. I jogged pitifully down the path, shaking and screaming and telling him to stay back. All those packs of cigarettes made it slow going. He skipped behind me. When I ran, he ran, and when I walked, he walked. Taunting me with memories of better times, he crooned: “Come on, let’s make some tea and talk about it. Where are you going? Hun, you know there are repercussions when you stay out late”. I knew it was to keep me quiet. I felt like a wailing child hurt by another on the playground, being begged and shushed in the bully’s nervous anticipation of the arrival of a teacher.

It was the longest twenty minutes of my life. After a time, he grew tired of his ruse and got angry. He told me that John was destined for jail, and that perhaps a little ass rape would “straighten him out”. He sang of my accomplishments, rewrote parts of my childhood into an idyllic Norman Rockwell story, chastised me for coming home late. Never once did he mention slamming my head against the wall, wrenching my arm and throwing me to the floor, banging me off the walls all the way up to my bedroom like a sick game of Pong. He still hasn’t, and neither has my mother, who witnessed it all.

Just as we were approaching the end of the forest, a man was jogging into it, visibly perplexed by my now hoarse screams. My head pounded, my lungs seized. “Please help me” I begged, swerving to intercept his path. Why wasn’t he stopping? “Is this your father?” “Yes and he assaulted me, please help!” “Hey Liam! Kids…” and, shaking his head, he jogged on. I’ve never felt so alone. It was worse than the series of nightmares I used to have that Nazis were chasing me across an endless snow-covered field.

As I ran clear into the yard of the house across the street, my mind suddenly alerted me that I was trespassing - as if it mattered. I was still screaming the whole way, and a woman walked out of the horse barn and told me to get inside. She then called the police as I explained to her who was standing awkwardly at the entrance to the woods across the street. In a quiet moment of childlike comfort, I stroked the nose of a brilliantly white horse and cried harder than I had at any other time during the initial and subsequent events.

I watched my father be handcuffed and pushed down into a cruiser, just like on COPS, and then I too got into a cruiser and was whisked away to John’s, where his mother buried my face in her chest for the onslaught of tears, standing in the rain on his back porch. When the officer told her I had been a victim of domestic assault, all she said was “I’m not the least bit surprised”. She always knew, and I never knew she knew until that moment. Not letting on that she knew was the nicest thing she could have done for those four years.

I saw my mother in the fifteen-minute window I had to collect my life’s possessions from the house, throwing everything out the third story window as if flames were engulfing the building. Everything that made it out is in my dorm room now, and it’s all I have. After she saw me, she called to break down crying and promise to still pay for college because I “deserve that experience”. Knowing my mother, it was to preserve her upper-middle-class status within her book group.

The following month was chaos. A detective took photographs of my injuries. I took out a restraining order against my father. I filed in small claims court to retrieve the money from my savings account. John’s parents paid for a lawyer and a new toothbrush. And then, it all died down. I was a college freshman, just like everyone else, except I was homeless.

60% of domestic violence victims show signs of depression, and suicide rates greatly increase after such incidents. I may have to drop out of school to avoid mooching off friends or returning home and having to apologize for the financial strain my involving the police created for my family. That was the incident that made me an adult, and being an adult sure is depressing.

 

The author of this story has since completed college and graduate school, and works as a teacher and mentor to young women in her field. 

Probably Just

 

The following poem was written by a supporter of Steps to End Domestic Violence. Please note potential triggers in this piece.

 

My mother says, “I know you can do better”

But she probably just doesn’t like the way you look.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My sister says, “He wouldn’t be a responsible partner”

But she probably just thinks you party too hard.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My grandma says, “Are you sure he’s the one?”

But she probably just thinks you’re too poor.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My best friend says, “You need to choose yourself first”

But she’s probably just jealous, and wishes you were hers.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

Your sister says, “Be careful with him”

But she probably just thinks her brother can do better.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

Your ex says, "Don't believe him, he'll cheat on you too".

But she probably just hasn't gotten over you leaving her for me.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My neighbor says, “Are you sure you’re safe?”

But she probably just doesn’t like to hear our kinky sex.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My therapist says, “It’s your childhood abandonment issues”

But she’s probably just projecting her own trauma.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My gynecologist says, “Reproductive choice is your right”

But she probably just thinks I’m too young to have children.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My boss says, “Is everything okay at home?”

But she probably just doesn’t want me to be late for work.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My doctor says, “It’s not love, it’s just oxytocin”

But she probably just doesn’t understand feelings.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My teacher says, “That doesn’t sound healthy”

But she’s probably just being overprotective as her job.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My landlord says, “Are you sure you want him here?”

But she’s probably just worried about the utility bill.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

The triage nurse says, “He’ll die of alcoholism soon”

But she’s probably just fear-mongering to make more money.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

The woman on the street says, “Is this guy bothering you?”

But she probably just doesn’t get that I said something wrong.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My old journals say, “Don’t fall into this again”

But I was probably just young and angry then.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My brain tells me, “This is harmful, it has to end”

But it’s probably more important to listen to my heart.

Because I love you, and I know you love me too.

 

My heart asks me, “Are you sure?”

And I realized that I haven’t asked myself...

Because I think I love you, but do you really love me too?

 

I thought, “I know what love looks like”

But it probably doesn’t look like this.

Because I love you, but I don’t think you do.

 

You say to me, “Fine, I’m leaving right now”

But it’s probably not going to work this time.

Because I’m onto you, and I think you know it too.

 

I used to say, “Please don’t go, I’m sorry”

Because it was probably just my fault

Because I loved you, and I thought you loved me too.

 

So today I say, “See ya later”

But it’s probably just “goodbye”.

Because I love me.

Making a monthly difference

Becoming a sustaining supporter keeps us running

 

Did you know it costs more than $800 per day to operate our shelter? That is nearly $300,000 every year.

And - did you know about $5,350 per year is spent to provide food for adults and children in our emergency housing programs – that equates to $446 each month.

There are so many moving parts in our organization, including costs that many of us don’t think about – because we don’t have to think about - that are needed to keep our services available. And as we grow, so do costs. 

So… what is the point of all this?

You!

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We are so happy to have you – our supporters - as part of our team. You make our work possible because when we’re spending less time worrying about money, we can focus our efforts on those who use our services, ensuring their safety and happiness.

Your monthly support is essential because it helps us where we need it most, when we need it most.

Some months it might be printing costs for educational materials, others it may be maintenance projects at shelter or helping with rental assistance for someone starting the next chapter of their lives.

Instead of making a single gift once a year, you can make the same, vital impact in a budget-friendly, ongoing monthly gift.

How?

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1.) Online – It’s a 2-minute process, we swear. Enter your credit card number on our secure donation page at stepsvt.org/donate, choose “monthly” to make it recurring, and enter the number of months you’d like it to repeat. Done!

2.) Mail – Have you received a donation envelope from us in the mail recently? Just fill that out with your credit card information and check the monthly option, then you’ll be good to go.

3.) Call us – We love speaking with you on the phone! If you’re unsure which option is best for you, or would like to talk about an automatic checking account withdrawal, just call us at (802) 658-3131 to speak to a staff member who can help.

It really is that simple!

Thank you for helping us do what we do. Because of you, thousands of people each year receive the help they need to escape violence and stand strong, independent and safe. 

 

Ambulance

 

The following story was written by a domestic violence survivor. Please note potential triggers in this piece.

I met my abuser when we were high school, we instantly became best friends, he was my protector, the one person that would never, ever hurt me. I felt safe with him, safer than I did with anyone else. When I was upset, I would run to him. I would have never believed that one day I would run from him, or instead of feeling safe by his side, I would grow to fear him.

I didn’t just miss the signs of a potentially abusive relationship… I literally missed the sign he was holding. I knew all of these things about him, the people he had hurt in prior relationships, the intense view of women being inferior to men, and how quickly he could lose his temper. But, in my mind, I was the exception- I could talk him down from being mad, believed that his girlfriends just weren’t right for him, or that even if he saw women in a negative way, it was only because he had been hurt by them. I made excuses for his actions the entire time I knew him, including after the relationship turned abusive, where I would blame the drugs, drinking, stress, past relationships, and myself for the things he did to me. I honestly believed I was the different, when in fact I was only another victim.

From early on, I was convinced that we were meant to be, he said I was the one thing he wanted his whole life, to me, he was my happily ever after.

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I thought we would be together forever. But last year, we parted ways, him in a police car, and me in an ambulance.

The details of the past several years are blurry to say the least, partly because I don’t want to remember, and partly because I had learned to disassociate so I didn’t have to remember. I would close my eyes when he had his hands around my neck so I wouldn’t have to see the intense hatred and anger that were in his. I knew he was really mad, when his eyes would change, he would become almost unrecognizable. Each incident was relatively similar, to the point that I would know what to expect. the details were often different, but the events were almost always the same.

He would always go for my neck, sometimes holding on to it quickly while yelling that he would kill me, other times holding me down, and holding it with both hands till I was sure that this was the time he would hold it too long. So much would go through my mind when he was strangling me, sometimes I worried about him, and what would happen after I died- would he have meant to? Or was it just to prove that he could control every breath I took? I would often think about the kids, and how they would lose both of us- if I were to die. And…when I think I was closest to passing out, I thought about just letting go, stop fighting- but I didn’t want to die, and it was my natural reaction to fight for my life- yelling even though no sound came out, and wasting breath that I desperately needed. This often went on for hours.

He would take my keys, the credit card he gave me, and my phone so I couldn’t call for help- and that was all in case I was able to get out of the house, which he almost always was successful of making sure I couldn’t do. He had me convinced that if I called the police that I would end up in jail, that my kids would be taken away and that if I did manage to send him to jail he would only come out angrier. He would tell me that I couldn’t make it on my own.

 I eventually believed him that it was my fault, that I was crazy, and deserved it- because after all -I never seemed to do anything, right? So, even though during those times, I wanted to escape- I was terrified to, and I was convinced that no one was going to help me, I had nowhere to go, and no way to get there…this was my life, and I had to just accept it. It even became natural for me to hide bruises on my arms, telling the kids I was cold in the middle of summer, that I once again clumsily hit my eye on one thing or another, or that my throat was hoarse because of allergies.

So, why did I stay? So many people ask me that, and until they are in that situation there is nothing I can say that would help them understand. After the abuse, we would be happier, and he loved me, and I loved him- it was as if it had never happened. We would spend more time together as a family, cuddle more, play games…when things were good, they were so good. During those times, I had renewed hope that we could do it, we could be that happily ever after that I so desperately thought we would have. I let myself believe that this time it would change, the abuse would stop- and we could be the family we were “meant” to be. Domestic violence is a vicious, cycle, and I would fall right back into it every single time.

On the day we parted ways, the police arrived, it was chaos- I was convinced I was going to jail, and I wouldn’t see my kids again. I was terrified, because I knew just how mad he was going to be when he got out. I was examined by the paramedics, and then asked if I had “wet”- my pants, embarrassed I let them know that I had. It was then that I found out just how close to death I had been- that day and so many times within the last several years. Urinating meant I was losing control of my organs, and dangerously near death. They convinced me I needed to go to the hospital.

In the ambulance, I did what I hadn’t been able to do for a very long time, I reached out to my family, whom I had lost contact with for nearly the entire duration of my relationship. They were amazing, they came to the hospital and sat with me while I talked with victim advocates, police detectives, and eventually the trauma surgeon. I was admitted into the hospital for an injury to my neck, that required observation and the long-term use of blood thinners to reduce the risk of a stroke.

Since that day, my life has been focused on providing some sort of normalcy for my children, and myself. The kids and I are on a protective order and visitations are supervised. However, the slow, and sometimes stagnant pace of the justice system has made it difficult to move forward in a system that requires me to relive every moment of the events in my past, the ones I have tried so hard to forget. The expectations, lack of communication, and surprising power that my ex-abuser still has over so many decisions baffles me.

Many life-altering events have taken place since last year, turning a life that I had settled on accepting abuse, to one that I have chosen to help others escape and recover from theirs, mainly through my writing.  I have learned I am not the only one on this roller coaster. I can take an experience that has broken me down, and use it to help bring others in the same situations up. Some days are harder than others, some nights bring little to no sleep, and some days leave me mourning the loss of a relationship- that even I don’t understand. But, every day is a new day, through the support of others, learning how to take back the control that was taken from me, and realizing that I can make a difference.

Because I am a survivor and my story matters.

 

Torn

 Everyone's story is different. The following is a true story from a survivor. 

I met my son’s father four years ago. When we first started spending time together, he told me about all of the bad things that had happened to him; he had been mistreated by people his whole life. I didn’t want to be another one of those people. I wanted to show him there are good people out there. I wanted to show him I was one of them.

The abuse started early. I thought maybe he was just going through something since he had been through so much already. But that was only the beginning. He would be loving one minute and abusive the next. I was torn; I wanted to leave because he was hurting me, but I wanted to stay to help him get through whatever it was he was going through, too.

He used my fears and insecurities against me. Everything I shared with him he turned into ammo. He didn’t ask questions because he wanted to learn about me - he just wanted to know what he could use to hurt me. Everything I told him I didn’t want to happen, he made happen. And he blamed me for everything.

Every time he hit me or yelled at me, he told me it was my fault.

When I got my own apartment, he came to live with me. As a result of the abuse, I lost my job, apartment, and car. I had to move back in with my mom, and he came with me because he didn’t want to be apart. A lot of people lived at my mom’s house, and he would constantly say insulting things about my family and our living situation; I told him he could leave if he didn’t like it.

But he stayed.

One night, we got in a fight there. He beat me up and slammed my head on the door. My brother and sister pulled him off of me. I had a huge lump on my head that kept growing through the night. My mom cried because the lump was so big. She told him he had to leave, and he told her my dad would have to shoot him. Eventually, his friend convinced him to go.

I thought having a baby would change things. But it didn’t make a difference. While I was pregnant, he dragged me through my apartment, hit me and choked me. His mom never helped me. Actually, she said I should have had an abortion. She thought I liked fighting with him, that I instigated every argument we ever had. I told her, “why would you like fighting with someone when you think they might kill you?”

One time, I was trying to leave him outside of his grandmother’s house in front of my 5 year old and 7 month old. He ripped my clothes and beat me up. I  tried to leave, and he followed me down the street. I asked his mom for help, to keep him away from me or to give me a ride somewhere else but she wouldn’t help. Eventually, I threatened to call the police, and he left me alone.

I felt like I was under his spell. Honestly, I didn’t know if I wanted to leave.

Now, I can see how dangerous it all was. I was following my heart. I wanted him to change, but somewhere deep down, I knew he wouldn’t. I am safe now. Sometimes, he still calls me to tell me he misses me, but I don’t fall for that anymore.

I know I am better off without him.

 

6 Common Misconceptions about Teen Dating Violence

By Bessie McManus, Development + Communications Intern 

As we settle into the New Year, we reflect on how far we’ve come in the last 365 days, and we make notes of our New Year's Intentions. One of our intentions around the office at Steps to End Domestic Violence is not only to continue raising awareness of DV in all its forms, but also to clear up any misunderstandings about it because the issue is complex and can be confusing.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, or TDVAM, and we’re here to speak to some of the common misconceptions surrounding this very real problem:

 

 According to  loveisrespect.org , 1 in 3 teens will experience physical, emotional, or sexual abuse by a partner. Abuse is traumatic and has serious adverse effects on survivors as they navigate adolescence and enter into adulthood.

According to loveisrespect.org, 1 in 3 teens will experience physical, emotional, or sexual abuse by a partner. Abuse is traumatic and has serious adverse effects on survivors as they navigate adolescence and enter into adulthood.

 While we may not experience the same emotional rollercoasters as teens, these feelings are real and throwing young romance into the mix adds another stressor. Dr. Wyndol Furman, an editor of The Development of Romantic Relationships in Adolescence, refers to adolescence as “a roiling emotional caldron whose major fuel -- more than parents, peers or school and almost as much as those things combined -- is [their romantic partners.]'' Teens’ lack of emotional control can make setting boundaries and having healthy relationships difficult, so it is important that we validate their feelings so we may better understand them.

While we may not experience the same emotional rollercoasters as teens, these feelings are real and throwing young romance into the mix adds another stressor. Dr. Wyndol Furman, an editor of The Development of Romantic Relationships in Adolescence, refers to adolescence as “a roiling emotional caldron whose major fuel -- more than parents, peers or school and almost as much as those things combined -- is [their romantic partners.]'' Teens’ lack of emotional control can make setting boundaries and having healthy relationships difficult, so it is important that we validate their feelings so we may better understand them.

 Many teens aren't familiar with  the signs of abuse.  What may first appear as endearing and thoughtful can quickly turn into controlling and manipulative. This is why it’s vital that we have these conversations--to educate folks so they know when their partners behavior has gone too far.  

Many teens aren't familiar with the signs of abuse. What may first appear as endearing and thoughtful can quickly turn into controlling and manipulative. This is why it’s vital that we have these conversations--to educate folks so they know when their partners behavior has gone too far.  

 Survivors may withdraw and disassociate from their friends and family because they are afraid; it can be hard to tell when someone we love is being abused because they might be hiding it. Recognizing  the warning signs  is the first step helping survivors.

Survivors may withdraw and disassociate from their friends and family because they are afraid; it can be hard to tell when someone we love is being abused because they might be hiding it. Recognizing the warning signs is the first step helping survivors.

 In a perfect world, convincing those experiencing abuse to separate themselves from their abusers would be as simple as saying, “you don’t deserve this.” The reality is, however, that we have to choose our words carefully. At Steps to End Domestic Violence, we work to empower survivors rather than offer advice or interject with personal opinions.  Remaining calm is hard when someone we love is hurting, but we want to cultivate an environment conducive to feeling safe and understood.

In a perfect world, convincing those experiencing abuse to separate themselves from their abusers would be as simple as saying, “you don’t deserve this.” The reality is, however, that we have to choose our words carefully. At Steps to End Domestic Violence, we work to empower survivors rather than offer advice or interject with personal opinions.  Remaining calm is hard when someone we love is hurting, but we want to cultivate an environment conducive to feeling safe and understood.

 According to  DoSomething.org , only one-third of teens involved in abusive relationships tell anybody.

According to DoSomething.org, only one-third of teens involved in abusive relationships tell anybody.

So what can we do? We can start conversations with teens before they start dating. We can teach them what a healthy relationship looks like and open the lines of communication so that if a teen does enter an abusive relationship, they will have someone to confide in.

If you or someone you know might be experiencing intimate partner or dating violence, call our 24-hour hotline at (802) 658-1996.


 

 

Get Out

 

The following poem and its accompanying video were created by a domestic violence survivor. Please note potential triggers in these pieces and the power in their messaging. 

I know what you are going thru! Because they say it takes one to know one and I know you.

I once was that one out of three statistic. Charm had me blindsided that I neglected the non-physical characteristics.

You know; a little control, and a little jealousy that used to be “CUTE” were sooner replaced with daily disrespect. Injecting me with insecurities that flourished in an already abandoned me.  Saying things like “you’re ugly, you’re slow and no one wants you”.  I believed it while analyzing the pieces that were wrong with me. I didn’t deserve that disrespect. Looking back I know the goal was to change my mindset

Demeaning jargon lead me to devalue myself and the confidence that once existed

My head shaved meant no more hair pulling to keep me hostage

As if that wasn’t sufficient

My mind had been convinced and manipulated to accept everything that was being served and every time a hand projected my skin I felt it was deserved.

My feelings were all tied up and bound and buried like distant and unforgiving memories.

Granting one full access to my emotions and feelings. Creating a tsunami of reflections that I was never to be but here I am.

In this makeshift woman made weather where every day it thunders and the lightening is just as quick as a fist. With enough destruction that is almost apocalyptic! When a surrender is easily detonated with fury and I am in its sight and path, except that explosion I can’t miss.

Because if I’m ugly and good for nothing than I guess this is as good as it gets for me I  knew I needed to leave sooner than eventually. But with no plan, no job or money and family support. I couldn’t just jump ship. I couldn’t be homeless so I failed to report

I contemplated suicide many times but by my hands I couldn’t. So with every fist or object jabbed into my flesh, I held my breath and I whispered just do it.

Suicide became me.

With Thoughts of my cold lifeless body on the floor

I envisioned of DO NOT CROSS secured on the door

For me to escape this abuse war I had to proceed

So I fought less. I began embracing what should have been my “END”.

Fights always turned physical and that day my Head was first to the cold concrete wrapped in a grocery bag stealing my main source of life. I began fading and grasping that one moment of freedom in my savored last breathe.

This is the moment that I savored the fruit of abuse, another statistic I am, another lover’s quarrel they will say. Another gullible woman she should of left anyway

But in the midst of the battle there was a shift.

Clarity and survival gave me enough devotion to live. I was the enemy without a plan. Clear exit to the door. Scared every footstep could have been my last and so I ran.

Determined not to look back because looking back was going backwards and backwards would have ended my lifespan. I could finally live and take a stand.

For the first time in years, fighting thru tears of joy I never felt and happiness I wasn’t allowed I stand proud.

Today I am wounded but undefeated.

Every day of life is a reminder that I am a survivor.

So for you I understand what you’re going thru

Fight your way out

No more secret silence and cover ups

No more deprivation by being a commodity

Mrs. Liberation

You are Beautiful, loved, special and courageous

More future than past

The addition to being equivalent

Breaking down the walls and barriers and saying enough is enough to of the Verbal, Mental, and Physical imprisonment

Full Bellies, Full Hearts

Making meals for families at the Steps to End Domestic Violence shelter brings a new sense of meaning to Heidi's life. Since January, she and her colleagues at PedsOne and PCC in Winooski have been preparing delicious meals for shelter residents twice each month. Before there was something missing, Heidi said, but since she began dropping off green beans, tacos, and a variety of other meals, she feels fulfilled.

This endeavor started with just Heidi. One person, who had heard about us and wanted to do one small thing to help. She casually mentioned it to a colleague who dove in. Now, it has expanded and Heidi's entire team at PedsOne and PCC. Through it all, Heidi has made at least one dish every other week since January, resulting in 22 meals donated to Steps to End Domestic Violence.

Even Heidi’s four-year-old daughter participates in the cooking. Together they talk about the importance of being involved in one’s community. Her daughter wants to make sure that the children who are living in shelter have something just for them in every meal. Last week, she picked out cookies with M&Ms. They were a hit!

It feels great when a group in our community spends time putting together a meal for shelter. Heidi, PedsOne, and PCC have filled the bellies and hearts of those we serve.

We are so grateful for their tremendous generosity and dedication to ending domestic violence with us, one meal at a time.

Spotlight: Self-care tips from advocates

It can be hard to carve out some time for yourself, but self-care isn't selfish!

Our direct service staff know this and they wanted to share with you some of their favorite self-care activities: 

 

“Go to the movies and unplug.”

“Watching movies with the fireplace on with my dog after eating a home cooked dinner.”

"I make a cup of tea, light some candles and snuggle with my cat."

"I go and buy my favorite ice cream or dessert."

"I call a good friend and just talk about nothing in particular."

“I like to take baths with a bath bomb. I like to catch up on reading, especially lighter reading (non-trauma stories). I like to binge watch one of my favorite shows, usually Gilmore Girls. I love to sit down with a great cup of coffee and a book either by the window or outside.”

“I like to play games either by myself or with friends.”

"In the summer, I like to lay out in the sun at the beach or my backyard and read."

“I like to read a book with my son.”

“I cook a delicious meal.”

“I like to write thank you notes to my friends and family, take my puppy to the dog park and watch the show, “Parks and Recreation” for inspiration on how to be more like Leslie Knope (my hero).”

“I like to snuggle with my dog.”

“Sometimes I turn my phone on silent mode and relax.”

“I enjoy going on long drives with my dog.”

“I like to go out to eat and have comfort food like French fries or shepherd’s pie.”

“In the summer, I like to fly a kite near Shelburne Pond. It’s really beautiful there.”

“I like to go on brewery tours in Vermont with my husband and friends.”

Learn more about: Self-care

Town Meeting Day

Town Meeting Day in Vermont is Tuesday, March 7! Let your town know you support those affected by domestic violence. We put together a fact sheet on how many people we served last year in your hometown! 

Did you know we receive funding from many of the towns and cities in Chittenden County?

Please bring one of the below sheets to your hometown's meeting and share it with your neighbors and elected officials. You can also post your hometown's statistics on your Front Porch Forum!

Encourage your town or city council to allocate funds to Steps to End Domestic Violence!

By raising awareness, you can help end domestic violence.

Find your hometown:

Bolton

Burlington

Charlotte

Colchester

Essex

Essex Junction

Hinesburg

Huntington

Jericho

Milton

Richmond

Shelburne

South Burlington

St. George

Underhill

Westford

Williston

Winooski

 

Do you have any questions? Contact us

Zumba® Brings People Together

Zumba® Brings People Together 

Jessica Hall is a local Zumba® fitness instructor and is this year’s Zumbathon® instructor coordinator. We asked Jessica to share with us why our Zumbathon® is so special and what Zumba® fitness means to her.

The Steps to End Domestic Violence Zumbathon® is the biggest Zumba® event in Vermont and, whether as a student or an instructor, it’s always been a “don’t miss” party. It is in its NINTH year! And it has it all, including instructors from all across the state, lights, cameras, crazy costumes, shenanigans, new routines, prizes, you name it! Not to mention that there’s no other feeling like rocking out to some INCREDIBLE music with a few hundred pals! But that’s not all this party is; first and foremost is that it benefits a good cause.

As someone who witnessed domestic violence as a child and young adult, I know the negative impact that domestic violence can have on a person. People need to understand that organizations like this change people’s lives. These services are imperative to victims of domestic violence and give them the tools that they need to survive and thrive and to move on toward a brighter future.

The opportunity to take this passion for Zumba® and use it to help raise money for Steps to End Domestic Violence means the world to me. I am beyond grateful to be a part of it. 

I began my Zumba® journey nearly 8 years ago. I was a Mom of three children and worked full-time. I was 36-years-old, stressed, quickly becoming out of shape and desperately needing something just for myself. I saw a sign posted outside of a dance studio in Swanton advertising Zumba® classes. I thought “why not” and showed up the following week.

I had no idea what to expect when I showed up there by myself, with no dance background whatsoever and with no exercise since before I was pregnant with my then 9-month-old daughter. I was nervous and unsure, to say the least, and had to take some deep breathes before heading inside. What if I looked ridiculous? Would I be able to make it through a whole class? Would I know anyone? What if I was a distraction to other people there? 

When I got inside I was greeted warmly by the instructors. I took a spot in the back and class began. I got winded quickly, had a hard time doing both the arm movement AND the legs and was undoubtedly the NEW person in the room. But the instructors kept right on cueing and I was able to get a good workout and feel like I had success with the movements. And the music, oh that music; that feel good, get sassy, empowering, uplifting music. It made me forget that I was working out, that I was screwing up, that I had laundry at home, stress at work and EVERY other stressor in my life. For that glorious hour it was the instructors, me and the music-that’s IT. After just one class, I was hooked. My life has changed for the better since then!

Zumba® has given me so much over the last 8 years. I’m more coordinated these days, thankfully! It’s made me more confident, it’s reshaped me physically, it’s reshaped me mentally, it’s my joy, it’s my therapy and it’s my passion. The network of people that I have met through Zumba® STILL blows my mind!

People of all ages, fitness levels, gender, race, religion, creed and color ALL fit in in a Zumba® class. Zumba® brings people together in joy and fitness in a way that I have never seen before. These classmates become part of your Zumba® family as well. We’ve celebrated birthdays, going-away, weddings, baby showers, graduations-you name it. We have laughed, cried, supported and cheered on together. 

Most importantly, the impact of the Zumbathons® hosted by local instructors for charity is mind blowing.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised for both national and local organizations and that’s been from just here in Vermont! Zumba® brings people together, especially when it’s for a cause.  I am so honored to be part of the passionate, generous, caring, socially conscious group of Zumba® instructors that we have here in Vermont! We all do some pretty amazing things when we come together!

Register for the 9th Annual Zumbathon®

Photo courtesy of Tim Stowe Photography


Peer Advocates Help Prevent Teen Dating Violence

The Peer Advocacy Program at Steps to End Domestic Violence recruits and trains high school students to serve as educational resources and support systems around dating violence in their school communities.

Marissa Pelino and Will Jewkes are Peer Advocates at South Burlington High School. They work with Emily Fredette, Education and Prevention Coordinator at Steps to End Domestic Violence, to implement programming and provide support to their peers. This is Marissa’s second year serving in the program and Will’s first.

Q: Why did you get involved with the Peer Advocate Program?

MP: I was at the career job expo where my friends were tabling for the program. Since they were graduating, they asked me to get involved. I’m glad they did because it’s given me a sense of purpose and made me realize that I want to continue to work with organizations like Steps. 

WJ: I’m friends with Marissa so she asked me to do it with her. I also wanted to learn about the warning signs so I could recognize and stop domestic violence in my own life.

Q: Why is the work you do important and what have you learned?

MP: It’s important because as a teen it’s hard to convince yourself that this is a problem because if no one’s talking about it and you can’t find the confidence to get out of the situation. It’s also much more common than I realized as dating violence impacts 1 in 3 youth so knowing that others are going through the same thing makes it easier to speak out.

WJ: It’s important because it lets our peers know that this is a caring and supportive community where issues like teen dating violence aren’t swept under the rug, especially when your own friends are in an abusive relationships or are abusing you since violence can be in any relationship.

Q: What do you do as a Peer Advocate?

MP: We make announcements about the different awareness months such as domestic violence in October and teen dating violence in February. We also hold events such as the prom dress drive and Purple Ribbon Day. The most rewarding part of my work has been sponsoring a child with my family for  Steps holiday program.

WJ: A lot of what we do is tabling during different events and in the school lobby during lunch. It’s really rewarding to be a resource because peers often feel more comfortable talking to other teens before they go to an adult. I think the stigma of teen dating violence is one of the biggest challenges that impact the work we do.

Q: What events do you having coming up?

MP: Since February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, we’ve gotten the hockey players at our school to wear orange laces during the games in support. We’ll be tabling at the games and hope that the people who attend will also wear orange to support us.

WJ: We’re also planning a wear orange day at our school on Valentine’s Day to help spread awareness about teen dating violence.

 

Your support can help end dating violence: Ways to give

 

DOUBLE Your impact on #GivingTuesday

SAVE THE DATE November 29 is #GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesday is an international day of giving the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

Last year on #GivingTuesday we raised over $13,000 in ONE day!

Like” our Facebook page for campaign updates and ways to give!

DOUBLE YOUR GIVING. If you give on November 29, all donations will be matched up to $5,000 by our Board of Directors!

This year we need your help to raise $10,000 in ONE DAY to support our legal advocacy program.

WHAT DOES THE LEGAL ADVOCACY PROGRAM DO?

Provides assistance in filing relief from abuse orders, and in navigating the legal system around issues such as divorce, immigration, child custody and child support
Offers a weekly free legal clinic with attorneys offering information and advice
Legal advocates helped 251 people file relief from abuse orders last year alone.

“Thank you so much for taking so much time to talk with me; I went from being really scared and not able to think about what I was doing to feeling a lot better and able to put my foot in the water.” 
-Quote from a woman who recently received legal advocacy

IMPACT OF THE LEGAL PROGRAM

One woman has been utilizing our legal clinic as she prepares for her abuser to be released from prison. Part of her safety plan for her and her children includes court orders that will help to ensure the family’s safety and provide consistency and predictability for the children. She is unable to afford an attorney, and because of severe post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from the abuse she endured for several years, she has been unable to work and has had to rely on public assistance. Through her Reach-Up case manager and the Department of Corrections, she found out about our legal clinic where she could meet with an attorney for free.

Her abuser was being released after serving 5 years for an aggravated domestic assault with a deadly weapon. He brutally attacked her with a gun in front of their young children. When the attack initially occurred, she had filed for a Relief from Abuse (RFA) order. As his criminal charges were processed, and he was eventually convicted and incarcerated, years passed and she let the RFA expire. Now that he was being released, she was in great fear that he would contact her. An RFA would provide extra security and peace of mind for her and her children.

Since he had been incarcerated, no new instances of violence could have occurred since the original RFA expired. Therefore, making the case for a new RFA would be tricky. With the help of the volunteer attorney at our legal clinic, evidence was gathered to demonstrate that her abuser had made no significant changes to his behavior while incarcerated. Because they were able to show that he continued to harass her from prison, threatening her via letters and phone calls, she was granted a new RFA. The legal clinic attorney also assisted her with filing a modification of the parent child contact and parental rights and responsibilities order, limiting her abuser’s contact with their children to supervised visitation once he was released.

Although these court orders were only one part of this person’s safety plan, it was her only means of having her abuser held accountable for his actions and to protect her children. Because of the legal clinic, she was empowered, informed and supported in navigating the legal system and bring her safety plan full circle.    

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Make a gift on Tuesday Nov 29! Your gift will be DOUBLED by a generous match from our Board of Directors!

National Hunger & Homelessness Week Here at Home

November 12-20

Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness across the country and here in Vermont. Homelessness and hunger go hand in hand, leaving many to make the tough choice between housing and food.  

Between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, Vermont’s publicly-funded emergency shelters, domestic violence shelters, and youth shelters, reported there were 4,208 persons sheltered for a total of 173,840 bed nights, 3,269 were adults and 890 were children under the age of 18, and the average length of stay was approximately 39 days (Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity, Housing Opportunity Grant Programs, SFY 2016 Final Report).

Last year, Steps to End Domestic Violence provided emergency shelter to 236 adults and 98 children for a total of 17,110 bed nights.

Many who suffer from domestic violence don't leave because they do not have a place to go, shelters are full, or the fear of the unknown is debilitating.

Our 18 bed emergency shelter is typically always full. We are often trying to find alternative emergency housing for those needing safety. Due to the need for immediate, safe and confidential housing, we must limit the length of stay at our shelter. According to the National Network To End Domestic Violence, “For many survivors, the common length of stay in an emergency shelter is 30 to 60 days; however, it can take 6 to 10 months or more for a family to secure stable, permanent housing due to the shortage of affordable housing options” (Domestic Violence Counts 2015). We understand this all too well in Chittenden County, Vermont where the vacancy rate for rental units hovers around 2%.

Hunger compounds the burden for those we serve. New residents of our shelter are in immediate crisis and nutrition benefits may not have yet been applied for or approved. Last year, we spent $4,500 on food for our shelter residents, who are encouraged to create their own meals from ingredients we provide. We also receive meal donations from the community. We provide snacks for the children served in our playgroups. For those who are not living at our shelter, we provide donated toiletries, grocery gift cards and bus passes.

How does one cover housing and food costs with minimal financial resources?

It is a precarious balance. Adequate nourishment provides a sense of safety. A sense of safety that is especially important for those who are fleeing domestic violence. Many fleeing their homes also face one or more of these additional struggles:  loss of income, loss of or limited healthcare, transportation struggles, childcare, and more.

A common question is, “Why don’t they just leave?” Imagine not only being homeless, but also not knowing where your next meal will come from.

Leaving an abusive partner stops the immediate harm, but without support, leaving and finding economic security can and does force many to return or stay.

Support access to emergency shelter: Ways to give

A Survivor Speaks Out For the First Time

A survivor shared this at the Candlelight Vigil on Thursday, October 27. She gave us permission to share her story here:

It is a privilege to speak to you tonight about domestic violence awareness and the community resources available at Steps to End Domestic Violence. It is also a great personal challenge as a survivor of domestic violence for me tonight to come before you.

I am able to stand before you this evening because of the local community supports I received through Steps to End Domestic Violence.

I have come out of years of a very isolated life because of the abuse. It wasn't purposeful that I became isolated from my family, friends, and community. It was a result of the abuser's chronic behaviors to me over time.

For 22 years, I have been coping with my abusive husband and now ex-husband of five years. Although I have been divorced for five years the abuse doesn't stop; it continues.

As I speak before you today, there was a crisis today based on his abusive behaviors.

However, I have changed. I have come from years of isolation to transformation, rediscovering parts of my best self that I thought were gone forever. 

The consistent supports at Steps to End Domestic Violence helped me make these changes for myself.

Up until recently, I was utilizing Steps to End Domestic Violence supports largely for chronic crisis. Steps to End Domestic Violence provides: 24/7 hotline, emergency shelter and group support services, transitional housing, economic advocacy, legal advocacy, safety planning advocacy and support with systems, and support for children.

The life changing part for me was that Steps to End Domestic Violence supports met me where I was.

Consistently being there, working with me through each and every crisis, and each and every step of the moving forward process.

The bottom line: a consistent, predictable, safe place to be supported.

What I've learned and continue to learn with these supports is:

  • To persevere despite the abuse
  • Be persistent
  • Say NO to the fear and isolation
  • To trust my own judgement 
  • To take risks

Steps to End Domestic Violence not only helped me with all of the support systems I mentioned, but also, and perhaps the most impactful, to come out of isolation. They not only helped save my life, but also offered me the support to find my best self again.

I'm standing here today, out in public for the first time ever - to raise awareness and to be in solidarity with other survivors and supporters. I am moving forward in my life; I am making something positive out of a very abusive situation.

 


You can keep life-changing services free and available to those in need: Ways to Give

To share your story: Contact Us